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Dry mouth syndrome and the benefits of chewing gum

Many Australians suffer from a dry mouth, which can cause problems with oral hygiene and tooth decay. Chewing sugar-free gum can help produce more saliva to overcome this problem and has other benefits, such as dealing with stress, heartburn (fruit flavoured only) and helping people trying to quit smoking. Too much of it can have a laxative effect so chew it in moderation."

Dr Christine Bennett
Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia.

What is dry mouth syndrome?

About one in four Australians has dry mouth syndrome, which means not having enough saliva in the mouth. A dry mouth is a symptom of an underlying problem, rather than a disease itself.

Various factors can cause a persistently dry mouth, including prescription medications, medical treatments and certain auto-immune diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome.

Why is saliva so important?


  • reduces the number of decay-causing bacteria
  • has anti-fungal properties
  • helps to destroy viruses
  • cancels out decay-causing mouth acids
  • contains phosphorus and calcium to rebuild tooth enamel
  • moistens food for comfortable swallowing
  • contains enzymes that aid food digestion
  • boosts sensation inside your mouth.

Symptoms of dry mouth syndrome

Mouth dryness affects people to different degrees and in different ways. But common symptoms of dry mouth syndrome include:

  • thick and stringy saliva
  • a tendency for your tongue to stick to the roof of your mouth
  • the need to drink more
  • dry and cracked lips with sores and split skin at the corners
  • dry and damaged lining inside your mouth
  • a sore throat
  • altered taste
  • bad breath
  • difficulty speaking
  • problems with chewing and swallowing
  • increase in plaque and tooth decay
  • increased susceptibility to mouth and gum infections (eg oral thrush, mouth ulcers)
  • difficulty wearing dentures
  • a tendency for lipstick to stick to your teeth.

Dry mouth may be connected with other symptoms, such as dry and itchy eyes, dry skin, rashes, and joint stiffness and pain. These symptoms are suggestive of Sjogren's syndrome. If you have some of these symptoms in addition to any of the above dry mouth symptoms, it's a good idea to consult your GP.

What are the benefits of chewing gum?

Chewing gum can:

  • increase saliva flow, which helps to cancel out the acid that erodes enamel after eating or drinking. Research has shown that xylitol, a naturally-occurring sweetener found in sugar-free gum, can prevent tooth decay. It's important that the gum you choose is sugar-free because the sugar in ordinary gum may damage your teeth.
  • have a calming effect and lower your levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the body in response to stress.
  • help digestion. The extra saliva produced by chewing gum increases the movement of solids and fluids along the esophagus (food pipe). It can also neutralise stomach acid in the oesophagus that contributes to the symptoms of heartburn Try fruit-flavoured gum as peppermint may make heartburn worse.
  • help people trying to quit smoking to manage their withdrawal symptoms.
  • help relieve the blocked sensation in your ears when the plane is taking off and landing during air travel.

Are there health risks associated with chewing gum? 

  • Many gum brands contain sorbitol, a laxative that can cause chronic diarrhoea and stomach pain if taken in excessive amounts.
  • Gum chewing can cause jaw discomfort. If you clench or grind your teeth, go easy on the gum. Chewing gum for 20 minutes may aggravate the discomfort around the jaw area.
  • Aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in sugar-free gum, is made from phenylalanine. People with phenylketonuria can't break down phenylalanine so ingesting it can lead to severe effects including nerve and brain damage in these people.

Further information

Australian Dental Association


Bausditz J Norman K Biering H et al. Severe weight loss caused by chewing gum. BMJ. 2008; 336: 96-97.

Better Health Channel. Dry mouth syndrome. [online] Melbourne, VIC: State Government of Victoria. c1999-2010 [Last reviewed Jan 2011, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Britt DM Cohen LM Collins FL Jr Cohen ML. Cigarette smoking and chewing gum: response to a laboratory-induced stressor. Health Psychol 2001; 20(5): 361368.

Digestive Health Foundation (DHF). Facts about heartburn (esophageal reflux). Sydney, NSW: Gastroenterological Society of Australia. 2007 [Accessed 5 Jul 2011] Available from:

Doniger BS. Saliva, chewing gum and oral health. Dentistry Today. 2004. [online] Available from:

Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Aspartame. [online] c1991-2011. Aug 2010 [Accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Hetherington MM Boyland E. Short term effects of chewing gum on snack intake and appetite. Appetite. 2007; 48(3): 397401.

Hetherington MM Regan MF. Effect of chewing gum on short-term appetite regulation in moderately restrained eaters. Appetite. 2011; June 27 [Epub ahead of print]

Ly KA Milgrom P Rothen M. The potential of dental-protective chewing gum in oral health interventions. J Am Dent Assoc. 2008; 139: 553563.

Medline Plus. Ear barotrauma. [online] Bethseda, MD: National Library of Medicine. [last updated May 2011, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Merck Manuals Online Medical Dictionary. Xerostomia. [online] Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck, Sharp and Dohme Corp. [Last updated Mar 2009, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Moazzez R Bartlett D Anggiansah A. The effect of chewing sugar-free gum on gastro-esophageal reflux. J Dent Res. 2005; 84: 10621065.

Pharmacy Self Care. Dry mouth syndrome. Deakin, ACT: Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. 2010.

Scholey A Haskell C Robertson B et al. Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Physiol Behav. 2009; 97: 304312.

University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Peppermint. [online] Baltimore, MD: UMMC. [last reviewed Mar 2009, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Last published: 30 October 2011

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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